Christmas apparently came early this year for higher-paid S.C. House staffers – courtesy of state taxpayers.
As of March, 32 staffers earning at least $50,000 annually had received raises ranging from 5 percent to 55 percent compared to the previous fiscal year, according to a review by The Nerve of a state salary database and House records.
The biggest beneficiaries of the pay hikes included the chamber's highest-paid administrator, House Clerk Charles Reid; and House Speaker Bobby Harrell's spokesman, Greg Foster.
Another eight staffers who were earning less than $50,000 moved into the $50,000-plus club this past fiscal year, which ended June 30, with their raises ranging from at least 5 percent to 20 percent.
And the House had added six new full-timers earning at least $50,000, bringing the total number of staffers in that group to 46, compared to 34 the previous fiscal year, records show. From fiscal 2008 through 2011, the number of employees listed in the $50,000-plus category was no more than 36. The House in recent years has been authorized to fill 127 "unclassified" positions, including those employees earning less than $50,000.
Reid received a $14,492, or nearly 10 percent raise last fiscal year, bringing his annual salary to $159,414; Foster's salary jumped 22 percent to $85,000, records show. The average salary last fiscal year in the $50,000-plus group was $71,797.
Including Reid and Foster, 19 staffers received pay hikes of 10 percent or more, records show.
The raises slip under the public radar because the chambers don't follow the traditional budget process.
With the raises and additional staff last fiscal year, the House was on track to collectively spend nearly $900,000, or 37 percent, more annually in salaries for its higher-paid employees, compared to the previous fiscal year, The Nerve’s review found. Those salaries totaled $3.3 million as of March.
Meanwhile, after four years of receiving no general raises, other state workers will get a 3 percent raise this fiscal year.
The pay raises for House staffers appear to contradict what House leaders told The Nerve in June 2011 about the purpose of an additional approximate $2.3 million for the House chamber for fiscal 2012. At the time, House leaders said roughly $1.3 million was needed to replenish House reserves used to cover staff salaries because of budget cuts the previous year.
The other additional $1 million was needed to cover expenses for reapportionment, or the redrawing of legislative and congressional district lines to reflect population changes from the 2010 U.S. Census, House leaders said then.
The House wasn't hurting for money at the start of last fiscal year: $5.8 million in general funds was carried over from the previous fiscal year, state budget records show.
Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville and chairman of the House Operations and Management Committee, contended at the time that the 124-member House had been more frugal with its spending during the Great Recession compared to the 46-member Senate.
“The Senate has been living a bit large, and the House has been leading by example,” Smith told The Nerve last year. “We have been cut. We have cut staff. We’ve cut salaries.”
The additional $2.3 million was slipped in as a state budget amendment on the last day of the regular legislative session in June 2011. In a repeat performance at the end of this past legislative session, lawmakers quietly approved yet another $2.5 million for the House, bringing the chamber’s total fiscal 2013 budget to nearly $21.3 million, The Nerve earlier reported.
Smith initially said he was unaware of what the additional $2.5 million was for, but later told The Nerve he was informed by House staff it was needed to fix electrical problems with the chamber’s sound and voting-board systems.
The Nerve this week left phone or written messages with Smith; Reid; Harrell, R-Charleston; Foster; and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, seeking comment on the latest staff pay raises.
None of the House officials responded by publication of this story; in an automated email response, Reid said he was on vacation.
Unlike most other state agencies, the House and Senate do not follow the typical appropriations process in getting their respective chamber budgets approved, as The Nerve has repeatedly pointed out.
For example, no one representing the chambers appears before legislative budget-writing panels in public hearings to discuss their budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. And neither the House nor Senate submits its proposed budget to the governor, through the Office of State Budget, by a Nov. 1 annual deadline as required by state law.
That practice has led to largely unexamined budget increases for the chambers in recent years. The Senate, for example, received a nearly $5 million increase for fiscal 2011, which wasn’t first publicly proposed until more than three months after the General Assembly was in session in 2010.
Part of that increase covered pay raises for Senate staffers, despite claims by chamber leaders that the money was needed for other pressing concerns, The Nerve reported in 2010.
At least 14 Senate staffers last fiscal year received raises ranging from mostly 3 percent to 14 percent, records show. For example, Senate Clerk Jeffrey Gossett – that chamber’s highest-paid administrator – received a 3 percent raise, giving him an annual salary of $152,966.
Following is a list of 10 House staffers who received some the largest raises last fiscal year, with their salaries and the percentage of their pay hikes, rounded to the nearest percent, in parentheses:
- · Andy Fiffick, chief legal counsel, Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee: $85,100 (55 percent);
- · Brad Wright, chief of staff and legal counsel in Harrrell’s office: $114,000 (24 percent);
- · Greg Foster, communications director, Harrell's office: $85,000 (22 percent);
- · Emily Heatwole, budget analyst, Ways and Means Committee: $63,600 (20 percent);
- · Patrick Dennis, chief legal counsel, Judiciary Committee: $95,000 (19 percent);
- · Andy Allen, research analyst, Research Office: $66,089 (15 percent);
- · Rosalind Harriot, index and general clerk: $75,031 (12 percent);
- · Charles Reid, House clerk: $159,414 (10 percent);
- · Mitch Dorman, sergeant-at-arms: $90,600 (10 percent); and
- · Paul Patrick, budget director, Ways and Means Committee: $77,000 (10 percent).
Following Reid and Wright as the top-paid House staffers are, according to a state salary database: Beverly Smith, chief of staff, Ways and Means ($113,900); Don Hottel, assistant clerk of the House Research Office ($113,436); and Tim Rogers, research/budget analyst, Ways and Means ($100,707). Smith's annual salary increased 7 percent last fiscal year; Hottel and Rogers each received 5 percent raises, records show.
Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or email@example.com.